On November 2, 2021, the San Francisco 49ers traded for an edge rusher on the Houston Texans in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 2023. At the time, Charles Omenihu had started seven games in three seasons and had yet to compile ten sacks.
Despite not having flattering stats in three seasons, you could see the traits that led to the 49ers taking this low-risk, high-reward approach on an uber-athletic talent that had yet to be molded into a starting-caliber player.
Omenihu showed flashes during the second half of the season, including notching seven quarterback hits and a forced fumble against the Dallas Cowboys in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
One offseason under Kris Kocurek and a season of playing alongside Nick Bosa helped transform Omenihu into one of the most productive pass rushers in the NFL. According to Sports Info Solutions, Omenihu’s 29 hits on the quarterback were ninth in the NFL. His pressure numbers align with former first-round picks that have either already gotten paid or are on the brink of earning a lucrative contract.
After a strip sack that all but salvaged the 49ers' season against the Seahawks in the Wild Card round, Omenihu had yet another splash play in the postseason to put his name back on the radar.
But Omenihu winning isn’t anything new. According to Pro Football Focus, only five edge rushers all season had a higher winning percentage when rushing the quarterback than Omenihu.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell listed 20 breakout players on the 14 different playoff teams, and Omenihu was the only 49er named:
Omenihu quietly was added from the Texans at the trade deadline in 2021, but it took an offseason of working with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to unlock the best out of him. He didn’t have a single sack last season, but he had 4.5 sacks on 374 pass-rushing opportunities in 2022. More notably for analytically inclined teams, he was responsible for 16 quarterback hits and 28 initial pressures, suggesting the 25-year-old could land more sacks in 2023 and beyond.
The 49ers typically like to cycle through reclamation projects for Kocurek behind their starters, so Omenihu could be available for a team in need of pass-rushing upside as an unrestricted free agent.
It feels like we say this every year with the edge rusher in his initial run with Kocurek should re-sign, but this time feels different. Omenihu feels like he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential or ceiling. At 25, with his versatility, Omenihu is precisely what the 49ers are looking for on the opposite side of Nick Bosa.
It’ll be fascinating to see what Omenihu’s market looks like this offseason. As Barnwell points out, the sack numbers weren’t there this season, but for how often Omenihu got after the quarterback and fresh off a career-high in sacks, it’s easy to project his success moving forward.